Despite stifling heat and a skeptical audience of more than 200 people, Sedgwick Properties representatives argued passionately with neighborhood residents tonight over their plan to build a $350 million mixed-use high rise on the site of a former Maryville Academy facility at Clarendon and Montrose avenues. After nearly two hours of debate, residents cast a potentially decisive vote regarding the development project, though many attendees had made up their minds long before the vote was called. After nearly five years of planning, Sedgwick says it’s now or never, as their agreement with the owners of the site is set to expire within the month. Opponents of the project, however, claim that this is a rush tactic designed to force freshman alderman James Cappleman to pass judgment on an issue he may know little about. If built, the development would consist of two towers rising nearly 500 feet above street level, sitting atop an 85 foot parking structure and commercial space. The towers would have 700 residential units, 140 of which would be affordable housing, as well as 200 hotel rooms. A large grocery store and a health club have already signed leases for the commercial space. The developers would also receive a $50 million dollar TIF subsidy. But unlike the Wilson Yard development, the Clarendon TIF payments would be made in eight disbursements upon completion of the eight phases of the project. Some residents questioned the wisdom of paying TIF funds before the entire project had been completed; however, Sedgwick reassured residents that it intends to complete the project. After personally greeting everyone as they entered the Clarendon Park Field House’s Gymnasium, Ald. Cappleman opened the meeting with a brief discussion of the pros and cons of the project as he saw them. He noted that the community might lose 100 free parking spaces on another property if the project fell through; that the project included rehabbing the Clarendon Park Field House; and that it would bring economic development and jobs into the community. He questioned, however, the necessity of a TIF subsidy for the project; he acknowledged residents’ concerns that the project would flood the already saturated condo market; and he worried that the density of the mixed-use development would increase traffic and frustrate parking in the area. “Our goal tonight,” Ald. Cappleman said, “is to bring all parties to the table.” Both sides were given 20 minutes to present their arguments, with Sedgwick’s Director of Business Development Jay Freeley presenting first. Among the benefits Freeley said Sedgwick’s project would bring the community were $6 million to rehab the field house, 125 free overnight parking spots, an estimated $350,000 - $450,000 in sales tax revenue from businesses in the commercial spaces, 1,200 full time jobs during the construction period and 140 retail jobs after completion, and spillover benefits including increased foot traffic and development in the area. Freeley said that Sedgwick expect the condo market to recover by the time the project is completed, and that they don’t expect their development to depress condo values. He also argued that they had met repeatedly with area residents and addressed their objections by altering
their plans to include more setback, a terminating alley so that loading traffic would not drive on the residential street Agatite, and other accommodations. Four residents spoke against the development project, including representatives of the Clarendon Park Neighborhood Association, a group that has vocally opposed the project. They argued along three lines: • • • First, they said that the building was too large and did not fit the character of the neighborhood, and that the 85 foot parking structure alone would dwarf nearby buildings. Second, they argued that the addition of 700 new condo units would flood an already saturated market, and that Sedgwick had not done enough market research to justify the addition of so much more residential and commercial property. Finally, they argued that Sedgwick itself had a spotty record, a history of conflicting statements, and an unwillingness to engage the public. They noted that two other Sedgwick projects resulted in condos that sold between seven and 18 percent below market rate.
Ultimately, the residents who spoke argued for patience and deliberation. Speaking as a local resident as well as a real estate professional, John Wyman said, “This meeting was indicative of the overall feeling of residents – we’ve nowhere close to enough information to make a sound decision about this plan. We shouldn’t be forced into a bad decision just because the developers want to pressure a freshman alderman. There are other developers interested in this site, and casting a no vote tonight will not cut off all options.” Jay Camp, a Realtor with Koenig & Strey and Sedgwick representative, felt that the meeting had gone well and that the project would ultimately benefit the community. “We’ve spent the last five years working on this project,” he said, “and it’s a good plan. There’s a lot of fear of developers out there right now, and it’s understandable. The last few years have seen some really irresponsible development, and some negligent development companies, so people are wary. But I think that they saw that we don’t intend to slap something together and cross our fingers. That just isn’t a successful approach.” Ald. Cappleman will announce the results of the vote later this week. - Robert A. Ross